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How to Build a Company Employees Believe In

Keith Pescosolido wants to wake up each morning and love going to work. He also wants to help build the next anchor company in Boston, and by all accounts, he’s doing just that alongside Drift co-founders and start-up veterans, David Cancel and Elias Torres. As head of operations and talent at Drift, Pescosolido has hit the ground running, drawing on the lessons he learned while building engineering teams at HubSpot. But regardless of how quickly the company grows, Pescosolido has made one thing clear: hiring the right people matters more than anything else.

But what exactly does “hiring the right people” mean?

I recently sat down with Pescosolido to get his take on best practices for hiring, as well as his advice for building a company employees believe in.

The 7 Steps for Building a Company Employees Believe In

  1. Don’t rush it. The time between Drift’s Series A announcement and the first news about the product? A total of nine months. Certainly not the norm when it comes to the startup trajectory, but essential for Drift, according to Pescosolido. While the founding team focused on research and customer development, Pescosolido set his sights on finding the right people to grow the team long-term. As a recruiter who worked at Kforce and AthenaHealth before landing at HubSpot, finding the “right people” meant assembling a group of world-class engineers and marketers that enjoyed collaborating, but also had the power to work autonomously within the tumultuous environment of a start-up. Despite this clear goal, the unorthodox strategy of building a team before a product initially made recruiting a bit challenging. So, what do you do when you’re charged with building out a team for the so-called next big anchor company in Boston—but without firm details about the product to entice candidates?You leverage that unknown to your advantage. You focus on finding people who are inspired by the same values and vision for the company, and are scrappy enough to make it happen.

  2. Assemble an outstanding team. Though Pescosolido honed his approach while recruiting for the engineering team at HubSpot, he’s now sourcing talent for all positions within Drift. What’s his key piece of advice to others building a team? “Make sure you want to spend a lot of time with anyone you plan to hire,” he says, referring to his preference for screening potential hires for both technical ability and culture fit.
  3. Screen for future-building capabilities. “Here at Drift, we’re building something from scratch. You’re not just going in and fixing someone else’s code, you’re actually writing it for the first time,” Pescosolido explains. While exciting, you don’t want candidates that are only in it for the highs—you also have to look for employees who will be comfortable with the lows, too. “We’re looking for people who have faced adversity in the past, and overcame it. They’re scrappy, hungry, with something to prove,” says Pescosolido. By preferencing candidates who demonstrate resilience, Pescosolido is assembling a team with grit, and arguably, a lot of heart.“We’re looking for people who have faced adversity in the past, and overcame it. They’re scrappy, hungry, with something to prove,” says Pescosolido.
  4. Give employees the autonomy to get the job done. Within a startup, it can be challenging to give employees autonomy as well as keep them focused on a set of particular outcomes. After all, unity of vision is key for team productivity. Pescosolido recommends over-communicating team objectives and staying on top of employee happiness with survey tools like TinyPulse.

  5. Don’t always pick the “smartest” candidate in the pipeline. “Everyone obviously wants the brightest person, but it’s not worth it if it’s toxic to your team,” Pescosolido warns. This is particularly true when you’re hiring for a start-up or a small business, where every hire is key to forward momentum. Instead? “The right technical skills are a given. But also look for candidates lacking in ego, who are genuinely excited to be building something with your team,” Pescosolido advises. By prioritizing these characteristics alongside intellect, you’ll land someone who’s a better balance of technical prowess and cultural fit.
  6. Recruit with diversity in mind. When you’re growing fast, it can be tempting to hire from within your network or assemble a team that looks like the ones you’ve worked with successfully in the past. But Pescosolido warns against doing either, and urges recruiters and decision-makers to focus on diversity starting on day one. It’s a message other tech entrepreneurs have reiterated as of late.“People are attracted to more diverse teams. If you focus on it,  it’ll actually become a recruiting tool,” Pescosolido advises.
  7. Look for someone who loves to learn. Pescosolido like candidates who are always learning, reading, and pushing themselves to grow professionally. “They need to be obsessed with getting better and what they want out of their next opportunity. Ultimately, those people raise the bar for themselves and the team,” he explains.

More Growth Ahead

Now, bolstered by a mission to help every business on earth know, grow and amaze their customers, 2016 looks bright for Drift. Hovering at about 15 people in their office in Boston, the company plans to double headcount in the next year. Despite the fanfare and rapid growth, Pescosolido remains focused on getting the right people on the bus to help guide Drift into the future at a pace that makes sense for the team and its people.

Says Pescosolido, “We think we’re very fortunate to have this experience right now, so we’re grateful every single day. We think this could be the opportunity that makes our careers and we want the people who come to work with us to value that same vision.”

For more HR and business insights, follow Keith Pescosolido on Twitter.

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